The St. Louis Cardinals are five games into the regular season and in the process of going 4-1, they have made a major ‘statement’ to fans, critics and maybe even themselves without saying a word; they are on a mission.
Apr 8, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran (3) is greeted by left fielder Matt Holliday (7) after hitting a 2-run homer in the 7th inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE
That non-verbal missive has been developed by numerous actions dating back to the offseason. They encompass one goal, repeating as World Series Champions. This is no easy task. The 2000 New York Yankees were the last team to do so. The 2008/2009 Philadelphia Phillies and 2010/2011 Texas Rangers reached back-to-back World Series, which is a major accomplishment in and of itself. The Phillies won one and the Rangers came out empty handed each time. Winning two World Series in a row borderlines on next to impossible.
For that reason, many analysts bypassed the Cardinals for their pick to win the World Series. I published on this site my prediction (which I claimed was sure to go wrong) that the Cardinals will make the playoffs but not win the World Series. I wisely wrote other posts like this one suggesting why they COULD in fact win the World Series again. I never claimed any doubt to their abilities, rather I think it is incrediblely difficult to repeat. Generally speaking, I would never pick a team to win back-to-back World Series. However, if the Cardinals play like they have the first five games of this season, they may prove me wrong.
As an organization there was a feeling that they had to make some assertions about themselves with their actions from the moment they hoisted the trophy. The ‘statements’ began with ownership led by Bill DeWitt Jr. and baseball operations run by general manager John Mozeliak during the offseason. Their manager of 16 years retired. To my knowledge there was no begging him to stay. They balked on paying an aging first baseman like a 25 year-old phenom he once was. They opted instead for short term contracts with veterans to hold down the fort until the wealth from the farm system is fully developed. They went on to sign Yadier Molina, the best catcher in the game to a five-year extension through 2017. They are paying him a lot but there seems to be no end to his development. The management made yet another statement when they declined to overpay for Roy Oswalt, a pitcher with a balky back, since they have a reliable (not identical) and cheaper replacement for injured ace Chris Carpenter.
The next set of proclamations were made by the manager Mike Matheny. He vowed to instill a new way of playing (actually an old way of playing) which enforced better base running and stealing bases. The fun part of this is that they still have plenty of pop to go with the dimension of aggressiveness on the base paths. He stated he will run the team in his own manner, not based on the prior realm. He showed this further by sticking with his veteran shortstop who looked like he lost yet another step and some bat speed during Spring Training. When the Opening Day lineup was issued, there was Rafael Furcal at the top of the order.
The lineup as a whole has bullied the opposition into believing their potency was not lost in the offseason. We all know that there will be the inevitable game here and there where the Redbirds are shutdown (like Saturday against Zack Greinke). There will be stretches where the offense will slide for a few days. But, it seems apparent that so long as this same or similar lineup continues to trot out to the field 90% of the time, they have a chance of putting up seriously great numbers.
The best part of the offensive onslaught has been its balance. The Cards are getting production from all over the lineup and the bench. Furcal is trying to dispel the notion that he is on the downside of his career. David Freese is setting out to prove he can leap into super stardom (outside St. Louis) by playing a full season. Carlos Beltran has done everything that Cards fans hoped he would so far. Matt Holliday looks to be turning things around after a slow start, even though it was only a three-game slump. Molina has picked up where he left off last season. Jon Jay, the quietest in terms of generating public merit is hitting .400. The bench has been delivering timely hits and producing runs when called upon.
The pitching staff has made numerous affirmations of their own. In fact, the rotation members have issued them one by one. Kyle Lohse showed he was worthy as anyone else the Cardinals could trot out on Opening Day with 7.1 innings of no-hit ball. Jaime Garcia followed with a solid effort. Adam Wainwright made his first start since September 2010 and looked very good at one particular stretch, which served notice he will return to the Wainwright of old in due time. Lance Lynn pitched well enough to ease the minds of many and will allow Carpenter to fully recuperate. Lastly Jake Westbrook continues where Spring Training left off, though his major statement came in the offseason when he decided to drop weight to get into better shape for the demands of the season. The bullpen has had some spotty moments, but they are young and their statement is simply to believe in them.
The Cardinals’ mantra seems to be; ‘Don’t doubt us. We’ve proved you wrong before and we are going to do everything in our power to do it again.‘ If they fail to fulfill their goal, it won’t be for lack of trying. So far, with every bold ‘statement’ there has been an action to back it up.